Potties, flying food and tantrums versus the ideal day with toddlers

While I mostly write about the controversial parts of life, most of our days are not filled with controversy or inter-ethnic tension. I thought it might be fun to try to set down a sort of “day in the life” of our little gingerbread house on Grumblers Ridge.

This winter has been very odd. It was so mild as to be worrying until the end of January, rarely even freezing. Then, the temperature dropped to 20 degrees below freezing for two weeks. Only in the past few days have we had any snow and it has only been barely enough to run a sled around. But finally, we have a semblance of winter.

These days, Dusan wakes up at 5:45 and is gone by 6:30, pulling his car out of our new garage in the night. I usually wake up to see his lights swing out across the light layer of snow on our unplowed gravel road. He has to drive about 30 minutes to the outskirts of Prague to the new offices of the company he works for as a surveyor of telecommunications lines.

I stumble out of bed as quietly as possible, because Marik sleeps in my room and waking him means an end to all hopes of breakfast or a shower. If I was on top of it the night before, clothes for me and both children are already prepared downstairs on the table, so I don’t have to rummage around in my room and risk waking up Marik. I make my way downstairs and shower, put on tea water and try, in vain, to move a bit faster.

These days dawn usually comes about 7:00. Oddly enough, the sun is often visible during February. I think it is actually one of our sunniest months. Perhaps it just seems that way after the constant gray of the previous four months. In any event, I sometimes get to watch an actual sunrise while I eat my breakfast of green tea and dark crusty bread slathered with Hungarian rosehip jelly or my own homemade current jam. I usually drink some kind of green tea and try to do a few emails or clean up one of the many small messes that are always in the way. I usually don’t get to do those things, as Shaye wakes up by about 7:10 and the only way to keep her from waking up Marik is to devote full attention to her.

Our current routine is that I comb Shaye’s hair while she watches home videos of herself as a baby or Marik’s homecoming. Sometimes she watches online clips of Romani folk dancing. She loves all of these things as much if not more than Sesame Street or other official “entertainment.” As much as most people marvel at my fortitude with Shaye’s long hair, this is actually one of the most pleasant and calm times of the day and often the only time with just me and Shaye. Her hair is easy to comb and she does not whine or even wiggle much, so we find this time is pleasant, unless Marik wakes up before we are done, which he unfortunately does sometimes.

That adds its own element because Marik’s current routine is that he makes a very large, very stinky mess in his pants immediately upon awakening. If the responsible adult of the moment is very quick and does not dally at all on the way to get him out of his crib and plunk him down on a potty chair, chances are that the big mess will end up in the potty and not in Marik’s diaper. This event is in effect the primary motivation for the entire morning routine – the race to get ready enough that one can spring into action to catch Marik’s poop in the potty and avoid cleaning up a poop mess.

If that feat is accomplished to satisfaction, the whole day somehow seems brighter. If one has to follow breakfast by wiping up a large stinky mass of fecal matter, the day necessarily seems a bit dreary. However it turns out, I follow with bottles of milk for both children and clothing. Usually, I have not managed to dress myself or brush my hair by this time either. So, they drink milk, I dress Marik and assist Shaye. I dress myself and usually finish my interrupted breakfast. Then, if there is a reasonable chance that we will actually see another person before Dusan gets home, I make time to brush my hair.

Psssst. If you don't exhaust Mama before she bakes them, you might get gingersnap cookies.

By the time all of that is done, it is certain to be about 9:00. At that point, there is generally laundry to be hung up, food to be thawed or pre-prepped for lunch, spills to be mopped up and, soon enough, more pottying to be done, fights to be broken up, bruises to comfort, tears to dab and toddlers to hold until calmed. And there is already a layer of toys across the floor, even though it was clean when we went to bed the night before. I usually have some sort of goal for an unscheduled morning like this. Often the goal is to get outside for at least a half an hour. Sometimes it might be a small art project. In any event, I spend the next hour trying to catch up on necessities enough to reach our fun goal.

Around 10:00, the kids eat their morning snack or a real breakfast in the case of Shaye, who won’t eat much before that. The snack usually consists of fruit, yogurt and bread with jam or cheese. And, then, if we are fortunate, we are able to either go outside or do some sort of project. Going outside requires that both children sit on the potty, at least one of them has a temper tantrum while waiting for me to find their scattered outdoor clothing, I wrestle Shaye into her mittens, sweater, snowsuit, boots, scarf and hat in that order, while she laughingly attempts to thwart me, I nudge Shaye out the door and then tackle Marik in the same manner. It seems to go relatively smoothly, except for the requisite tantrum at the beginning of the process (never about the same thing). Even so, it takes at between 30 and 40 minutes to get both children outside.

By this time there is usually little more than a half an hour to spend outside before I have to go in and get lunch ready. That is more or less okay because either the temperature is extremely cold (usually under 10 degrees below freezing) and the children’s faces freeze or it is above freezing and there is mud and slush that quickly soaks snow suits. We have had perhaps one day this year with a comfortable mildly freezing temperature fit for sledding and building snowmen.

After the children roll inside through the doorway, shedding snow, boots, mittens and hats in a ragged line leading to the playroom, I sweep out what snow I can and go to heat up lunch. If I did not cook in advance, we would never eat anything with real nutrients, so we tend to make huge pots of things and then eat the same thing for days on end.

Marik has just reached the stage where he insists on feeding himself but has only a 50 percent accuracy rate with shoveling food toward his mouth. But still, I see the light at the end of the tunnel with meals. Someday soon we will all simply sit down with our plates and eat together nicely, perhaps even remembering to give thanks for our food before we dig in. But at present it is still chaotic. Both Shaye and Marik scream to be first and I try to have both of their bowls hit the table at close to the same time. Then, I try to help Marik feed himself, while snatching bites of my own lunch when I can.

After we eat, I try to clean up the worst and most urgent of the messes, including washing the food-spattered floor, putting away leftovers and clearing dishes that will otherwise be grabbed and broken on the hard tile floor. There are also hands and faces to be washed, bottoms to be put on potties, fights to be broken up, crying to be calmed and always unexpected disasters and messes to be dealt with. By the time, I glance at my watch and notice that it is almost 1:30 and time for stories before naptime, I am so exhausted that the only thing that gets me through diapering the children and lugging them upstairs is the prospect of a break… soon.

I try to read to the kids for about twenty minutes before naptime. It is pretty chaotic at present. Marik doesn’t have the attention for stories read at Shaye’s level and will only sit and listen if the reading is interactive and completely focused on him. Shaye also often wants to bounce on beds and run around to keep the adrenaline of awake-time going. So, it is not always really reading for twenty minutes. Okay, it is rarely that – though it does sometimes happen that Shaye and I read while Marik plays relatively quietly on the floor. This is helped along when I can remember to bring cookies or apple slices for the children to nibble on while they listen.

Then, I put Shaye into bed and sing to her. These days she almost always demands “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” of all things. She has demanded that one song for a year now. Finally, I pick up Marik and head for my room, where I wrap him in his sleeping bag and loose swaddle and sing him if not to sleep than into a drowsy state with a variety of folksy songs.

If I truly had naptimes to myself, I think I would be fine. However, it is rare that even the most urgent food-related messes have all been cleared up, there isn’t still a basket of laundry to be hung or I don’t have to cook another major meal. If I don’t have to attend to those things, I can write my blog, research some of the many topics I’m working on, work on herbs, keep up correspondence, work on the children’s lifebooks or the like for about two hours.

After the kids get up, there is another round of potties and snacks and then either a leisurely period of play or a chaotic continuation of cooking with unhelpers, if I haven’t finished the naptime cooking tasks, which is common. Dusan gets home around 5:00 and needs a few minutes to recover from driving in traffic. Then, there is dinner, more or less as chaotic as lunch and, then, more cleaning – this time with two of us but both of us very tired.

The only television in our house other than the hairbrushing videos of the morning happens at 8:00 when the kids watch Sesame Street, Elmo’s World, Winnie the Pooh or the Czech Little Mole for fifteen minutes. Then, there is bath time, almost always accompanied by tantrums over who gets what toy, splashing, brushing teeth or who gets to dry off first, and by this time of the evening the tantrums are sometimes dealt with in less than patient ways by exhausted parents.

Yet, in the end, one of us somehow manages to wash the kids, smear them with herbal moisturizing salve and put on their pajamas, while the other one finishes cleaning up the kitchen and hopefully sweeps the disastrous downstairs floor. Then, I put Marik to bed with songs and a short story just for him, while Dusan reads a bit with Shaye and, then, I read again to Shaye on most nights and always repeat my singing performance and say a poem about the moon (another ritual must). You would think that I had an ear for music, given how much Shaye insists upon my singing, but I am nearly tone deaf and my singing is a rough approximation. Shaye even recently told me that my singing hurts her ears, but she perversely continues to request it.

By this time we have reached 9:30 in the evening and I stumble back downstairs for a cup of tea and a quick look at emails, which usually turns into a bit longer than a quick look and I often don’t make it to bed until 11:30. As a result, I’m running on a maximum of seven hours of sleep a night, which I am not built for. I wish I were the kind of person who can live happily and healthily on five or six hours, but I’m not. Over the long term, even seven hours leaves me bleary and less than patient with the children. I need eight hours in order to be efficient and stable in my moods. I also need iron supplements and St. John’s Wart tincture, if not all the time than during certain periods. These days, I usually forget both and suffer from anemia and low energy as a result.

My low energy isn’t the only issue, as you might have noticed. Our daily routine is less than inspiring. So, when Dusan took Shaye to his parent’s house this weekend and I had some relaxing time with just Marik and space to think a bit, I decided that I have to try something new. So, I have devised a schedule that I think we may be able to implement on days when we are home all day. The key feature, I suppose is my bedtime, at least an hour earlier than usual and my wake up at least a half an hour earlier than the usual. Other than that there is more strategically placed cleaning and more teaching kids to pick up after themselves both hopefully resulting in time for more reading, art projects and times to focus on music. It will probably require sacrificing some of my computer time, but I hope it will be worth it. Here’s the schedule below. I will report back on my success in sticking to it.

Daily plan with kids aged 3 and 1.5 years – February 2012

6:00 – Mama wakes up, light incense and candle for sanity, shower, brush hair, breakfast, take vitamins and herbs, pour boiling water on bottles to sterilize, defrost any necessary food or put on pots for broth or beans
7:00 – Shaye wakes up, brush Shaye’s hair, Shaye tries to eat yogurt or drink a bit of milk
7:30-8:00 – Marik wakes up, immediately goes on potty, gets milk bottle (210 ml)
8:30 – Morning routines completed, morning poem with kids, pick up toys if left out, story time and very short session with preschool homeschooling techniques
9:15 – Marik on the potty, Shaye chooses art activity or short project, do project + clean up
10:00 – Snacks, while listening to music or recorded stories
10:30 – All potty, dress and go outside
11:30 – Marik on the potty, lunch prep, kids clean up toys
12:00 – Lunch + thanksgiving poem
12:45 – Marik potty, Mama clean up
1:00 – Music, dance and singing session, gradually getting into slower calmer music
1:30 – Story time with fruit or cookies
2:00 – All potty, Naps, Mama’s quiet time
4:00 – All potty again, use construction toys, pretend play or games
5:00 – Marik on the potty, dinner prep, hopefully with Dusan taking kids and thus more possible to make a meal or finish a prepared meal each day
6:00 – Dinner, Marik on the potty again
7:00 – Clean up kitchen, diaper drying, unload/load dishwasher, sweep, declutter, wash out baby bottles and put in sterilizing bowl
7:45 and 8:00 – Marik on potty, kids clean up toys before video, video
8:15 – Bath, brushing teeth, all potty, other parent washes pans, finishes kitchen clean up
8:45 – 9:15 – Stories, bedtime moon poem, kids sleep
10:00 (max 10:30) –Mama to bed

All the reminders about Marik on the potty are because of our somewhat alternative potty training technique. It is a lax version of the “diaper free” method. It worked very well with Shaye who decided to potty train herself completely at 17 months. It has been rougher with Marik because of his late arrival home but it keeps major messes to a minimum and will hopefully allow eventual voluntary potty training. It still requires the normal amount of diapers, however.

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11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Julie Farnam
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 17:52:46

    It is the most difficult job imaginable. How is it that we ever choose it? The only thing that compares committing to love another person for a lifetime. And then doing it.

    Reply

  2. Peter Farnam
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 01:25:59

    Good work! It sounds like you’re doing as well as anybody can. Those kids are lucky to have you.

    Reply

  3. Nathaniel Farnam
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 07:51:45

    Sounds remarkably like Holly’s typical day! Only double the infants and add a 5-year-old… I don’t know how you mamas do it!

    Reply

  4. Andrew Patterson
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 08:45:44

    It’s really pretty amazing what you’re doing. I have two kids about the same age but I’m doing the easy job at work getting yelled at by clients. Staying home is much harder.

    Reply

  5. April Krueger Van Tassell
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 10:18:49

    I’m exhausted just reading this blog! I think I’m going to bed . . .

    Reply

  6. Stuart Croghan
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 11:03:43

    Arie, what a wonderful example of one of my favorite poems, “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and you are living it. There is a line I heard the other day that seems appropriate but probably not quoted correctly: Having a baby is like watching your heart run around outside of your body. The maternal instinct is strong in you! Congratulations and thanks for writing about it!~Stuart

    Reply

  7. ariefarnam
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 13:36:26

    What? I was reporting a GOOD day, not ideal but without any of the moderately major catastrophes that happen at least half the time. 🙂 I apologize for any vicarious exhaustion. In any event, my new schedule has helped. I think that I personally do well with structure and that I waste less time and energy trying to remember things I was supposed to do, standing around dazed in the middle of the mess and so forth, if I have this very clear and detailed structure. Yesterday, I almost managed to do it perfectly. I didn’t quite get the kids organized to clean up all their messes and Shaye managed to get her finger slammed in the door, while we were trying to go outside. It was bad enough to need a fairly major band-aide but we still managed to get outside for a few minutes. Today was more chaotic given that we had to go to a doctor’s appointment but still the schedule helped to get things back on track when we got home. I did burn lunch though. “Turn off the broccoli” apparently wasn’t on the schedule. 😛

    Reply

  8. Brook
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 16:22:57

    You are amazing, Arie! ♥ Keep up the great work!

    Reply

  9. Nathaniel Farnam
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 17:50:17

    Yet another fan comment, left on my Facebook “share”:
    Cori Castaldo commented on your link.
    Cori wrote: “I’ve so been there. I’d almost forgotten. The other day I was looking at some old videos with the kids and we all noticed how GROSS our kitchen floor was. I realized we’ve grown out of that phase. We don’t spill like we used to and I have a little more time in the day to clean up messes when they happen. It’s a luxury only those with over-4-year-olds get. I realized it made be a little sad in a twisted way, to say good-bye to that particular type of chaos. All the phases are good though. I love where I am right now, where we are as a family. And I still love your sister!”

    Reply

  10. Nathaniel Farnam
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 17:52:14

    And another, Eli’s aunt:
    Jenny Wallingford commented on your link.
    Jenny wrote: “‘the unhelpers’ hahaha! I remember my Dad saying, ‘Please don’t help me anymore.’ I now understand what he meant! HA!”

    Reply

  11. Nathaniel Farnam
    Feb 22, 2012 @ 06:11:57

    Kathleen Evergreen commented on your link.
    Kathleen wrote: “Thanks for sharing. Oh, wow, did that bring back memories. I don’t know how she has energy for all that. No wonder I was so tired when the kids were young. I admire her efforts at scheduling and organizing the day. I never did that. Could be why our days seemed so chaotic. ya think? LOL!”

    Reply

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